How To Become A Counsellor Without Going To University

Last Updated on December 14, 2022 by Omoyeni Adeniyi

You can become a counsellor without going to college or university. In fact, if you have the necessary skills, talents and qualifications it is very possible that you can find employment as a counsellor before you even finish your education.

The following article discusses what you must know about do you need to go to university to become a counsellor
how to become a school counsellor UK. Read this article to find out what information you need. You will also discover related posts on can I be a counsellor without a degree & how do I become a counsellor without a degree on Collegelearners

How To Become A Counselor To Help Other

With mental health issues and general life stress becoming more prevalent, a non-judgemental, listening ear can do more than make someone feel better – it can help turn people’s lives around. But when people are considering becoming a counsellor, it’s easy to become confused about what counselling actually is.

If your goal is to help people who are struggling with difficult life situations (issues such as substance abuse and declining mental health), counseling may be the right profession for you. With all of the different types of counselors you can be, and the enormous number of professional counseling education programs available, discerning how to become a counselor may initially seem difficult.


Educational Requirements

To become a counseling therapist who works with clients to help attain their goals or treating mental health concerns, it is necessary to pursue a master’s degree as a minimum. Professional counselors, who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental health problems and work in many different settings, must complete a master’s degree program in mental health counseling, counseling psychology, or clinical mental health counseling. Some degree programs have different names or descriptions. Counseling psychology, for instance, differs from marriage and family counseling, and counseling programs for forensic psychology, behavioral psychology, and other specific areas of psychology also diverge from a general degree in counseling.

Not all counselor education programs are created equal, so it is very important to take the time to thoroughly research each master’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or doctoral degree program before committing time and resources to a particular program or counseling field. It is a good idea to check with your state board that licenses professional counselors to find out what their educational requirements are before selecting a program to begin, in addition to checking with the National Board for Certified Counselors; making sure both certifying boards recognize your program is a vital part of the education process. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs or CACREP, accredits counseling programs. Programs that are accreted by CACREP are high-quality academic programs that meet professionally approved standards.

Counselors are never finished learning. Even after you have finished your initial educational requirements, you will have continuing education requirements in order to continue working as a mental health counselor in the fields of counseling, psychology, including forensic psychology and behavioral psychology. Counselors are ethically required to stay aware of developments and research in the field to provide the best possible service to clients. While having a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, or Doctoral degree may be important steps to take in becoming a counselor, counselor’s cannot stop there, because the field of mental health (psychology, counseling, and psychiatry) is steeped in human services, and humans are ever-evolving, ever-changing subjects.

How long does it take to become a counselor

The answer to this question depends on the level of education you attain. For instance, in some states, you can become a substance abuse counselor with a high school diploma and experience working with substance abuse. Master’s degree level counseling jobs are more common, and these require the completion of a 2-to-3-year program beyond an initial bachelor’s degree program.

Others may choose to pursue a doctoral education, which takes longer. To become a Ph.D. or PsyD psychologist, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D., which totals to about 5 or more years of education beyond the undergraduate level.


How much do counselors make? Far from being a simple answer, the truth is that working in any mental health field comes along with a wide variation in salaries. Salary potential is dependent on the type of education or degree in counseling and exact counseling career that you pursue, as well as the setting you choose to work in. Inpatient positions may pay more than private practice, and non-profit or public agency work may pay less than private practices. In general, the more education you have, the greater your salary will be. Your geographical location will impact your earning potential, as well; some areas have more demand than others, and others have a greater number of mental health workers than there is a need for. Those with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. have the education necessary to teach and even to research. With these additional avenues of employment, salary typically increases.

Types of Counselors

There are many different areas of specialty in the counseling field, and most require at least a Master’s degree. If you want to learn how to be a counselor, read on. Here are some examples of counseling careers:

School Guidance or Career Counselor


If you want to interact with children or adolescents in a school setting on a daily basis, you may want to become a high school guidance or career counselor. As a high school, middle school, or elementary school counselor, you may help students discover their passions, gain admission to college, or work through problems at home. You may also administer testing to students to determine special needs and qualify entry into subsequent programs.

In order to become a school counselor, you will need to earn a master’s degree in school psychology or become an Education Specialist (EdS). Either way, a Master’s degree will generally take 3 years of graduate education after a bachelor’s degree is completed. Finally, you will need to attain NASP certification by completing an internship to demonstrate clinical experience and proficiency and passing a test (the Praxis II school psychology exam).

Many schools now require a psychologist to attain a Ph.D. or EdD, so more schooling may be necessary, but this is not yet a universal requirement. To start, aim for getting a Master’s degree, and check with local certified counselors and governing boards to determine the preferred level of education in your area. Each state varies in its licensure requirements, and you will have to become licensed in the state you plan to work in. Contacting your state board for school counseling will provide you with information on what their educational and licensing requirements are, and may even give you a window into the types of mental health counselors the school is looking for.

Marriage and Family Therapist

If you want to offer counseling to couples or families, you may want to become a Marriage and Family Therapist. Some topics you might address include: grieving the loss of a loved one, infertility, conflicts, substance abuse, pornography addiction, domestic violence, and LGBTQ issues. To work through these issues, you will need to observe how individuals interact with each other and holistically address relational issues.

How do you become a marriage or family therapy counselor? You should first earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, family studies, or a related field. Then, you must earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or counseling. Before you can practice independently, you will need to complete post-graduate supervised work, totaling around 3,000 hours of experience.


Your state board for marriage and family therapy will have valuable information about requirements for becoming licensed to work in your state as a marriage and family therapist. Some states require social work to be completed in preparation for effective family therapy work. Others focus primarily on specific niches, including substance abuse. When selecting a degree in counseling, make sure you seek out a Master’s degree program that focuses on the related field you want to work in.

Mental Health Counselor

If you want to be able to work with a wide range of people, you may want to gather information on how you can be a mental health counselor. To do this, you will need a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and post-graduate supervised experience. Under the umbrella of mental health counseling, you may decide to specialize in any number of fields, or to practice generally. Some counselors specialize in the modality of therapy they use, treating specific problems like trauma or substance abuse, or work in certain settings like inpatient services, or online therapy.

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

If you want to know how you can be a counselor without a college degree, you may want to look into addiction counseling. Some states allow people with a high school diploma and a combination of field experience or certification to become licensed to work as a counselor with alcohol and drug abuse. The earning potential in this field is typically less than that of counseling professions that require more education, and in treatment settings there are disorders that your clients may present with that are separate (co-occurring) with substance abuse that you will not be qualified to treat. Nevertheless, human services and social work fields involving substance abuse can be extremely rewarding workplaces.


Clinical Psychologist: PsyD or PhD

If you are willing to devote a significant amount of time (at least five years beyond a bachelor’s degree, and 2-3 years beyond a Master’s degree) to education, you may want to look into becoming a clinical psychologist. Clinical psychologists frequently specialize with hard to treat disorders or in diagnostic evaluations and testing. Some clinical psychologists conduct research and make innovations in the field. Doctoral level psychologists also serve an integral role as educators. Psychology, counseling, and research (think: forensic psychology and behavioral psychology) are all viable pathways for individuals who have a degree in clinical psychology.

Other options

Perhaps you want to work with clients one-on-one, but you are not sure that counseling is right for you. There are many other options, and each option requires different levels of education, though a high school education is fairly standard, and a bachelor’s degree is quite common.

A health and fitness coach or a personal trainer works with clients specifically on weight loss or athletic goals. If you are interested in helping people achieve optimal physical health, this job may be for you. Because physical health and mental health are so closely intertwined, you may have a positive impact on clients’ mental health even if you aren’t a counselor!


Similarly, a nutritionist works one-on-one with clients to ensure that they are eating properly so that they can achieve their personal health goals. As with health and fitness coaches, nutritionists have a variety of educational and certification options, though Registered Nutritionists require a high school diploma and at least a Bachelor’s degree and may even require a Master’s degree in some states or programs.

Finally, if you are interested in helping children and adults who are in tough situations, you may want to become a social worker. Social workers may have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and work in many different environments. Social work, though difficult, is enormously rewarding and fulfilling, and many states are in short supply of social work employees, which leaves individuals who are marginalized, living in poverty, or otherwise in need of assistance without the help they need.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What qualifications do you need to be a Counsellor?

If you want to be a licensed counselor, the qualifications you need will depend on which field you’re going into. Rehabilitation counselors may need different qualifications than your average mental health counselors, for example. Some forms of counseling may not need a degree or license at all. Either way, becoming a licensed counselor is a long journey. Here are some things that you may expect if you want to be one.

Research Your Field

First, figure out what type of counselor you want to be. If you don’t have an idea, getting your basics out of the way may be a good idea. Are you interested in forensics? Investigate forensic psychology! Are you interested in human behavior and the pursuit of improving lives? Consider looking into behavioral psychology! If you simply want to work with mental health and help others, consider a degree in general counseling, psychology, or social work. Having a general idea of what you want to study should help you narrow down your path on your journey to being a counselor. Your particular path may involve a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, or a simple certification.

A Bachelors Degree

To begin, get a bachelor’s degree that’s relevant to your field. Psychology, counseling, education, sociology, or another degree in a related field can all serve you well in your pursuit of a counseling or psychology degree program. Fittingly, this is something you may want to talk to your school counselor about. They can help you find the bachelor’s degree that is right for you. A bachelor’s degree can take about four years, so make sure you’re in it for the long haul.

Master’s Degree

Next up is the master’s degree. You usually should get a master’s in counseling, but in some cases, a related field may work for this too. Again, talk to your school counseling office. A Master’s degree is where the work gets more challenging, as you ease into the counseling world. In addition to a master’s, you may need:

  • An Internship
    Following a Master’s degree, an internship helps you prepare for a degree in counseling and subsequent career. Many internships will involve you spending hundreds of hours as a supervised counselor, and you usually need this to become one. They may be paid or unpaid, but either way, an internship helps you gain the experience you need to thrive in a mental health career involving counseling, psychology, or social work.
  • Additional Credentials
    These requirements will depend on your state. In some states, you may need other credentials under your belt if you want to start a career in counseling with a Master’s degree. You may need to retake a credentialing exam or take continuing education credits every few years to maintain your certification. In addition, you may need a doctoral degree if you want to be a professor in the field.

    There may be other things you need to be a part of, as well. You may need to be involved with a board for certified counselors, one of which is the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). A national counselor board like the National board for Certified Counselors, professional counseling organizations, or anything else that offers counseling specialties or offers a better outlook for counselors is something to look into to make your resume look more appealing or impressive to prospective employers.

Going into a degree program without knowing a great deal about it could easily lead to getting a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree in a subject you do not truly love or feel passionate about. Before selecting and entering into a degree program, do plenty of research: speak to professionals in counseling, psychology, or social work, and ask about the particulars of getting a degree in counseling. Seeking out school counseling, speaking with certified counselors, and discussing counseling, psychology, and social work with people who are already working in the field or a related field or are currently enrolled in a mental health degree program can all provide tremendous insight into the requirements involved in getting counseling degrees.

How many years does it take to become a counselor?

There is no fixed amount of years required to get counseling degrees. Some people breeze through college, while others take their time, and it may depend on what type of counseling job you’re seeking. Some degree programs require a fully-fledged degree involving a basis of liberal arts, math, and sciences, while others offer certification that focus entirely on the degree program in question. A Bachelor’s degree takes four years, on average, a Master’s typically takes 2-3 years, and a doctoral degree takes another 1-3 years.

On average, getting a degree in counseling, psychology, social work, or a related field requires commitment for at least 5-8 years. Although this may initially seem like an insurmountable obstacle, or an unthinkable time frame, many people get their bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree while they are working other jobs, raising a family, or managing their own business ventures. These years do not necessarily have to be consecutive years, nor do they have to be completed as a full-time student. Because degree programs in psychology, counseling, and related fields take a great deal of time and commitment, many people choose to get a degree, take a break to work, and go back to school over a period of a decade or longer.

Can you be a counselor without a degree?

Do you need a master’s degree in counseling to be a professional counselor? There’s no doubt that your options become limited without a degree, but some careers don’t require years in counseling schools or counseling degree programs. Some states, for example, will let someone become an addiction counselor with just a high school diploma. Before you spend years at a school, make sure you do your research and make sure that you really need the degree. Research about a degree can be completed through school counseling, career counseling, or simple online search engines.

How much does a counselor make a year?

This is going to depend on what type of counseling career you choose, and where you live. The average amount a licensed professional counselor can make is a little over $69K, but it’s going to fluctuate depending on what degree program you choose, and the precise field of counseling, psychology, or social work you choose to go into. Research different counseling career incomes to see which one is best for you.

What do counselors do?

Counseling is a field that covers a broad range of services, but they are all connected by one thing: helping people with their problems. Whether it’s helping a child struggling with school via school counseling, or helping an adult recover from a drug addiction via substance abuse programs, counselors are there to help and empathize with their clients. Counseling, psychology, and social work all typically involve listening, providing insight, and working to build healthy coping and communication skills.

What is the difference between a counselor and a therapist?

The terms “counselor” and “therapist” are often used interchangeably, usually as “a professional who helps those with problems improve.” However, there is a difference between a counselor and therapist. Let’s break down the differences.


This is a term used to describe both people who have a degree and are licensed, and those who offer another type of counseling, which does not require an advanced degree, such as a Master’s degree. A counselor may have a master’s degree in counseling, and may have gone through the counselor licensing process (typically involving clinical practice, a licensing exam, and subsequent licensure). They may be a part of a board for certified counselors. Or, they may just have that title and not be licensed. Regardless of education, they aren’t always as highly trained as a therapist is.

This is not to say that those without a Master’s degree, or people who enrolled in a degree program for counseling did not complete a great deal of work and toil; instead, it just means that counselors may not offer the same level of expertise as a therapist, and may be limited in the scope of their practice—particularly when more advanced or severe mental health issues are involved.

Counselors help clients reach their goals and desired outcomes. While they tend to lack the in-depth research and understanding that psychologists and therapists are required to have, they are still quite knowledgeable and can still work in a variety of fields, such as school counseling, family and marriage counseling, and even some psychology fields.


In many states, you need to be licensed as a professional psychologist to call yourself a therapist. Therapists may cover quite a few professions, all of which have a behavioral approach. A therapist looks at one’s behavior and learns ways the client can change how they behave. Behaviors can improve depression, anxiety, and other life situations. Forensic psychology, behavioral psychology, and general psychology all typically fall under the umbrella of “therapist,” and all involve getting at least a Master’s degree, if not a doctorate degree.

What type of counselors are there?

There are many certified counselors out there and programs in counseling to choose from. If you’re looking to be a counselor, here are some career choices you can choose from as you look for your counselor certification:

  • Educational Counseling
    Educational counseling, school counseling, or counseling education, is a career where you work in schools and universities. Sometimes, it may involve helping young students with their personal problems. Other times, your career may involve helping students with their grades or choosing a career path. Whether you get a counseling license to work with children, teens, or young adults, educational counseling can be a rewarding and fulfilling career.
  • Marriage and Family
    This form of professional counseling involves helping families or those who are married. Marriage counselors work with couples who feel like their relationship is falling apart, or just work with couples who want to improve. They can help couples who are having trouble communicating or help those who have had a crisis.

    Family counselors may involve not only the husband and wife, but the kids and other family members. When there is a disagreement or estrangement in the family, family counselors work to repair any relationship the family may need help with.
  • Substance Abuse Counseling
    Substance abuse counselors help those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. When someone has an addiction, it may be hard to kick the habit. A counselor in this field will work with the client to help them find ways to wean themselves off the drug and quit it.

    Also, a substance abuse counselor can handle relapse. Identifying certain triggers and learning how to avoid them are just a few services a substance abuse counselor may have.
  • Mental Health Counselors
    Mental health counselors may work with clients who have all kinds of mental disorders. For instance, they may work with someone who is depressed, anxious, has schizophrenia, or someone who just needs help improving their mental health. These certified counselors may use classic, proven techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help those who need it the most. This is a field where psychology and counseling do combine.

    Many mental health counselors may not be involved in psychology and counseling and may just be about helping a client improve their overall mental health. For example, teaching a client how to eat better, sleep more, or exercise more to improve mental health.
  • Career and Guidance Counseling
    A guidance counselor or a career counselor is someone who helps a person with their career paths. They may help a teen or young adult pick a field they’re interested in. Or, they may help an older adult who wants to try their dream job. Getting into a career, especially if you already have one, is a challenge in it of itself, and a career counselor works their hardest to ensure that you reach your goals.
  • Psychology Counseling
    Psychology counseling, or counseling psychology, is a counseling career that involves helping a client with their emotions. Counseling psychology could involve working with a patient who is always angry or helping a patient who gets upset over everything.

    Psychology counseling may look at one’s life situation and help them find ways to cope with what they’re given. Someone who works in psychology counseling may have their own unique solutions to problems, but they may change advice should their style of psychology counseling not work for the client.
  • Rehabilitation Counseling
    Rehabilitation counselors work with disabled people to help them find careers, live with a disability they developed, or assist with any other challenge that a physical or mental disability brings. Someone in this career needs to be qualified, and anyone in the field of rehabilitation counselors is expected to have the most care for their customers.
  • Behavioral Disorder Counselors
    These people usually work together with substance abuse counselors and a master addictions counselor, and they tend to focus on behaviors that are problematic. We all have bad behaviors, some of them quite destructive. A counselor in this field may be someone who: identifies your unhealthy behavior, gets to the root of the issue in question, and tries to help you find effective methods to cope with barriers and make healthier choices to improve your life and behaviors.

    The line between a behavior disorder counselor and a therapist tends to be blurred. A therapist does tend to look at one’s behavior and tries to modify it. Both types of professions may use similar techniques. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, may be used. This form of therapy helps identify destructive behaviors and thoughts, and both people may use it to help their clients be the best possible.

Of course, there are a lot more counseling careers in addition to this. This is just a list of the most common counselors. Although the question of how to become a counselor may initially seem like a simple one, there are an enormous number of career and educational paths involved in becoming a counselor.

What are the highest paying counseling jobs?

If you’re looking to get a master’s degree in counseling, you may want one that is financially rewarding. Many people become a counselor for more than just the money, but they still want a good paying job too.

Obviously, different jobs are going to pay different amounts. Educational counseling is going to have a different payroll than what substance abuse counselors get. A college counselor may be paid differently than a clinical mental health counselor.

It also depends on where you are counseling from. A rural town is usually going to pay less, and a city may pay more. On the other hand, the cost of living may balance that out.

One of the highest paying jobs for counseling is gerontological counseling. These counseling jobs involve working with the elderly. They average about $60K.

If you consider psychiatry a field of counseling, they get paid over $200K.

How many hours does a counselor work?

If you want to consider counseling jobs in the future, you may wonder how long a counselor works. Obviously, this is going to depend on where you live, how many clients you have, and what type of job you choose. Educational counseling may require a lot of work, but you are rewarded during breaks. Meanwhile, someone like a rehabilitation counselor may have to stick around for a long time to make sure their client is safe.

Most counseling professionals, on average, work a 40-hour week. This is obviously going to fluctuate. Some counselors may work after hours so they can take care of any client emergencies. The job has some consistency, but it’s also a job where you may need some overtime here and there, no matter what counseling program you chose.

What do psychiatrists do?

A psychiatrist is someone who diagnosis mental health disorders, creates a treatment plan, prescribes medications, and does whatever else they can to ensure the health of their clients. They’re great for second opinions, for referring you to other people, and to help admit you should you need it.

Do therapists hug their clients?

A hug can be heartwarming for someone who is going through a hard time. For another person, being touched from anyone is a no-no. Some therapists will have a strict no-touch policy, except for maybe a handshake, as they don’t want to be a liability.

Other therapists or other people in the field of counseling, meanwhile, may hug the patient, but there needs to be consent. Not only should the therapist ask, but there should be a discussion before the first session as to what the boundaries should be. Some patients may get offended if a therapist just asks for a hug. So, it depends on the therapist and the client, is what we’re trying to say here. Some like hugs, and some do not.

What are the benefits of being a counselor?

A career in counseling, whether you’re a mental health counselor, rehabilitation counselor, deal in abuse counseling, or are any other type of licensed, professional counselor, has its benefits. These benefits include:

  • Helping people. Many counselors are in the job because they like helping people. A mental health counselor may enjoy seeing their patients gain more confidence or conquer their depression. School counselors may love seeing their students’ grades go up. Rehabilitation counselors love seeing people overcome their addictions. A marriage counselor likes seeing two couples on the rocks go back to how they were during their honeymoon. The list goes on and on.
  • Always being social. For many people, they need socialization in order to have the best mental health possible. Someone with a degree in counseling who has succeeded in their job usually has quite a few clients they speak to, and this can improve their social batteries.
  • Learning from people who are different than you. Counselors work with people of all races, ages, cultures, and differences. Someone with a degree in counseling may have quite a few stories they hear in a day. This can help the counselor increase their understanding of the world and improve their empathy.
  • Finally, the money. Someone with a degree in counseling shouldn’t just do it for the money, but making a living off counseling, and being paid well in some parts, can be a potential benefit for anyone. Of course, depending on who you are, you may get paid more or less. A school and career counselor may make a different amount than someone in the field of rehabilitation counseling, for instance.

Do counselors work in hospitals?

Yes, they do. You can find a mental health counselor, or quite a few others who have a career in counseling, at a hospital. For example, substance abuse counseling is often found in a hospital, especially one geared towards rehab. Substance abuse counseling can help those who are addicted increase their chances of staying off the drugs. If someone is in hospice, you may find a grief counselor comforting the family. Family counseling may be available at the hospital for new parents. You can find every type of mental health counselor and physical health counselor at a hospital.

How many clients does a therapist see a day?

This all depends on what type of therapist they are, where they live, and how much they can handle. Some therapists can see 10 or more clients a day. Some may do only half. There are some therapists who may see more specifically because they work in groups, couples or family counseling, which means that they may work with two or more clients per session.

How many clients a therapist has can determine how much money they make, but this may not necessarily be the case if the therapist charges more depending on income.

What are the challenges of being a therapist?

Mental health counseling and therapy is a rewarding career, but it’s a tough one. Most counselors and therapists will agree that there are many challenges to the field, and while it’s subjective, there are a few challenges that seem to be harder than others. These include:

  • Not being biased. People who provide therapy or counseling services have their own beliefs, or they may prefer one side over the other if they’re dealing with a couple. However, a therapist needs to set any biases aside and be as objective as possible. Sometimes, that’s a challenge.
  • The stubborn client. This is a client who refuses to open up or is having a difficult time doing so. Some clients find counseling or therapy, but then refuse to open up once they do so. Mental health counselors work only so much with what they have, and if a client is giving them nothing, it can be a challenge.
  • The therapist-client relationship. Sometimes, a therapist could develop certain feelings, be it friendship or romance, and those in the field need to be mindful of this. Licensed counselors need to make sure their relationship goes beyond the office.
  • Too much empathy. A therapist or counselor will hear stories from their clients, and quite often, they’re sad or traumatic. Sometimes, this can get to the therapist. Therapists can help others, but sometimes, they can’t help themselves and may need counseling professionals of their own.


If you are wondering how to become a professional counselor there are many ways to achieve this goal. With hard work and dedication, you can obtain both the education and the work helping others that you want to. Whatever your educational attainment, if you are committed to your individual clients, you are sure to make an impact and help others in a meaningful way.

How long does it take to become a counselor?

This question is a nuanced one: some counseling, psychology, and social work programs require a Master’s degree, while others require students to complete a doctoral degree. Given the total possible amount of education involved in school, counseling degrees can take anywhere from 4 years to 8 or 9 years, after both a degree program (Master’s degree or doctorate degree) and the clinical mental health practice typically required prior to licensure. Consequently, although the field of mental health can be enormously rewarding and tremendously fulfilling to work in, it is not a commitment for the faint of heart, or anyone trying to get a degree quickly, in order to begin working in their field immediately.

What kind of education is required to be a counselor?

A Master’s degree or doctorate degree is the most commonly required education requirements for counseling, psychology, and other mental health fields. School counseling, marriage and family counseling, and similar forms of counseling require at least a master’s degree, while most psychology degrees require a doctoral degree, as is the case for both forensic psychology and behavioral psychology. Because the mental health field is considered a medical field, the subject is vast and complicated, and a higher level of schooling ensures that mental health professionals are adequately equipped to work with their patients, whether that means creating health goals, diagnosing illness, or working through addiction.

What’s the difference between a counselor and a therapist?

Although the two terms are frequently used interchangeably—even by professionals in the field—the most significant difference between the two is the level of schooling required for each; the term “therapist” typically suggests a doctoral degree, while the term “counselor” often denotes a Master’s degree. Both typically involve clinical practice in order to achieve a certification, and both involve mental health: counselors are frequently just as qualified to deliver diagnoses, provide counseling, and act as a mediator in disputes. A doctoral degree in a mental health field, however, brings with it the added avenue of research and education, while a Master’s degree in mental health may not be given these same opportunities.

How much does a mental health counselor make a month?

As is the case with any profession, mental health counselors’ monthly salaries vary considerably, but a safe range to work within is $40,000 to $70,000 per year. Because counselors work in a variety of settings, ranging from school counseling to private counseling, and can be seen in an enormous amount of places, from places boasting a high degree of poverty, to towns replete with wealth, there is no way to identify a definitive amount of money guaranteed a counselor. Typically, public positions pay less—think public school counseling, community counseling, and public hospital counseling—while private positions may pay more—think private pay hospital counseling, private school counseling, and marriage and family counseling practices.

What jobs can I do with a masters in counseling?

A master’s degree in counseling opens a great deal of doors. Although the degree typically requires a base of some liberal arts, this particular degree is usually considered a science degree, and scientific fields may be in greater need of incoming professionals. The avenues opened to you through a Master’s could include school counseling, career counseling, marriage and family counseling, and general mental health counseling. Some of these jobs will require counselors to diagnose and treat disorders such as depression and anxiety, while others will require counselors to teach communication and coping skills. No matter the exact type of counseling you go into, the purpose is the same: to aid individuals in need of counsel or guidance, and to support the mental health of your clients.

Can you open your own practice with a masters in counseling?

A master’s in counseling would give you the ability to open your own practice, with some limitations: counselors are not able to treat more severe cases of mental illness, and may require an additional mental heath professional to step in and assist in more complex issues. Many private counseling practices focus on children, family, and marriage counseling, while career and school counseling are almost always held in educational institutions. Like any other counseling position, a private practice counselor will undergo training, including a basic liberal arts and sciences education, followed by an advanced degree, and clinical practice. Each of these steps gives people with a master’s degree in counseling the authority to carry out their own practice, provided that they do not claim to be able to offer medication, or treat more severe forms of mental illness that require medication and more drastic intervention.

How many clients should a counselor see a week?

On average, counselors may see as few as 10 clients per week, or as many as 45. These numbers have a lot to do with the counseling in question, however; in school counseling, for instance, the number is likely to be a lot higher. Because school counseling typically involves students (whether those are elementary aged students or the adult students at a small liberal arts college), the numbers tend to be larger, and can even exceed 45 clients. In private practice or a more focused type of counseling, counselors may have the ability to take on fewer clients and continually maintain fewer caseloads, as might be the case with a private marriage and family counselor, or a private substance abuse counselor working in a rehabilitation setting.

What is a full caseload for a therapist?

There are guidelines to follow when taking on new clients, and plenty of suggestions regarding how many clients is the optimal amount (some argue no more than 14, some happily agree to more than 30 without issue), so there is not one single idea of what constitutes a “full” caseload. Because different counselors have different meeting times, different reasons for meetings, and different settings for meeting, identifying a full caseload is far more difficult and complex than, say, identifying how to become a counselor, or how to effectively reach new clients. Ultimately, a full caseload for a therapist may not be an exact number, but a measure: if the therapist is not able to remember client’s names, be fully present with clients, and continue to see clients without experiencing burnout, irritation, or unkindness, their caseload is too high, and should be whittled do

How to become a psychological therapist without completing an undergraduate psychology degree


It’s not unusual to choose to become a psychological therapist later in life, perhaps as a second career. For example, in 2017, 395 of the applications to the UK Doctorate in Clinical Psychology came from candidates aged over 35. However, most training courses in psychological therapy require an undergraduate psychology degree. What are your options if you don’t have this? Here I offer three routes you might want to consider, depending on your current situation.

  1. You have an undergraduate degree in something else? Do a psychology conversion course

If you have an undergraduate degree in any other area, you can ‘convert’ your degree by completing a psychology conversion diploma (PGDip) or MSc course.

The key thing is to check that your chosen course is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and will provide you with Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). The BPS currently lists 171 such courses nationally. The entry requirements for these vary, so it’s worth checking these on their websites and contacting them directly with any queries you might have. Two to consider are:

  • Birkbeck, London’s ‘evening university’. Birkbeck offers two accredited psychology conversion courses, the Postgraduate Diploma and the Psychology MSc, both of which are designed for candidates with an undergraduate degree in another area. Both courses can be completed in a year full-time or two years part-time and involve attending lectures 4 or 2 evenings a week. I spoke to the admissions tutor, Dr Eddy J Davelaar, who is a Reader in Cognitive Science about Birkbeck’s entry requirements. He said “While the course is designed for non-psychology graduates, it is a postgraduate course. A certain level of pre-existing knowledge in research methods is needed. Where applicants have no such background, they may be made a conditional offer dependent upon their passing an online entrance exam in research methods. They will need to pass at 60% (if applying to study full-time) or at 50% (if applying to study part-time)”. However, if this is you: don’t panic. Birkbeck will assist you in identifying relevant courses (online or at the university) or practice materials to help you prepare for the entrance exam.
  • If you’re looking for a distance learning course, check out the MSc/PgDip Psychology (Conversion) courses offered by Manchester Metropolitan University. These can be completed in 12 months full-time or around 2 years part-time (21 months for the PgDip; 24 months for the MSc). These courses are taught entirely online, requiring no attendance at the Manchester campus. In terms of entry requirements, pre-existing psychology credits are needed for the PgDip route but not for the MSc. Further guidance on the qualities the course looks for in prospective candidates are outlined on their website and include commitment and motivations, IT skills and the ability to study independently.

Once you have your conversion degree, you can choose to pursue any psychology career which appeals to you, such as Clinical Psychology, Counselling Psychology or Forensic Psychology. Each of these requires further study, but there are opportunities for paid employment and development within these training routes. For example, once you have your degree, you can apply for Assistant Psychologist roles within the NHS which are usually appointed at Band 4 or Band 5 and provide further experience for subsequent psychology career specialties. Sign up to for alerts. You can also apply for research assistant posts at universities, which offer paid experience for psychology graduates interested in pursuing research-related careers. Sign up to for updates. For further info on therapy-related psychology careers, see my previous blog.

  1. You have a background in mental health from a non-psychology discipline? Train in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

An alternative to traditional psychology specialisms is to train as a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is an evidence-based, goal-oriented, time limited therapy. It is the most commonly delivered therapy in the NHS and the main focus of the Increasing Access to Psychology Therapies (IAPT) initiative, which delivers psychological therapies in primary care settings.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this route is that it isn’t accredited by the BPS, but by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). As such, you don’t need a psychology degree to start training. Instead, you need to have a background in one of the listed ‘Core Professions’, which include Mental Health Nursing, Occupational Therapy and Social Work, amongst others. If you have one of these core professions, you already hold the basic entry requirement for further training to become an accredited CBT therapist.

If you are choosing to self-fund your CBT training, check out the BABCP list of accredited ‘Level 2’ courses. Completing one of these will make you eligible for registration as a CBT Therapist and able to apply for Band 7 CBT posts in the NHS. Courses are 1 or 2 years long and involve supervised CBT practice on placement and attending teaching at university. You can apply directly to universities such as Birmingham and Bucks New University. Entry requirements vary between courses, but most stipulate that 2 years’ experience of working in mental health is a pre-requisite. Self-funded applicants are expected to have a pre-arranged placement where they can undertake supervised CBT practice to gain the relevant experience they need. At Birmingham, this is stipulated as 3 days a week for a year. At New Bucks, this is stipulated as 200 hours in total.

There is also the option to pursue paid training routes in CBT. For less experienced mental health professionals, this may initially involve training and working as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) in Primary Care. These posts are usually appointed at Band 4 and promoted to Band 5 once training has been completed. PWPs deliver low-intensity CBT interventions, such as guided self-help and psychoeducation groups. To then train as a CBT therapist (termed ‘High Intensity Therapists’ or ‘HITs’), you apply directly to services for specific roles, rather than to universities. HITs train on a Band 6 and can apply for Band 7 roles once qualified. For training opportunities in both roles, search for ‘trainee’ positions.

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  1. Looking for a third way? Consider a career in counselling or psychotherapy

While the BPS is the accrediting body for psychological therapists and the BABCP is the accrediting body for Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, the BACP accredits counselling and psychotherapy courses. They all share similar letters, so beware of confusing them!

Counsellors can train in a range of therapy modalities, from Freud’s psychoanalysis to Roger’s person-centred (or ‘humanistic’) counselling. Once qualified, they can work independently, for the NHS or for third sector organisations. Training courses usually focus on one of these therapy modalities in particular, but the BACP suggests that counsellors may use a mix of techniques if they think a client would find this helpful.

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